Museum offers insights into river, rail, and transportation history of Monongahela River Story/Photos by Christine Haines It’s a bit like Gulliver and the Lilliputians to see members of the Pittsburgh Garden Railroad Society working on their train display at the Monongahela River, Rail and Transportation Museum. At times it seems as if the spacing between the tracks and model buildings was designed specifically to accomodate an adult male foot, but spectators are assured that any such accomodation is purely coincidental. What is not coincidental is the ability to transport the viewer into the era when railroads were a major means of transportation in America for both freight and passengers. Pint-sized passengers clutch suitcases as they run to catch the train; miniscule acetylene tanks sit outside the “car barn” ready for unseen workers to make repairs; a child swings beneath a tree for hours on end. All of this takes place on a 24x24 foot carpet in the lower level of the transportation museum in Brownsville. The group is in the process of building a new display which will be up for about a year, according to club member Tina Weimer of Greensburg. The new display will be open free to the public from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. on Fayette County Train Day May 11 and again May 18 for the National Road Festival, according to Ernie Bradman, one of the museum board members and a retired railroader. Weimer said children are particularly fond of the model railroad, eager to get up close. “The kids are usually very good. Their parents tell them to stay off the green area. They’re usually sitting here on the floor,” Weimer said. The model train display is just one part of what is available at the museum which is usually open Wednesdays from 9 a,m. until noon or by appointment. While there’s no admission fee, donations are accepted. Memberships are also available for those who want to show their support for the transportation museum, Bradmon said. There are currently about 170 members. The museum houses a wealth of information and artifacts from the former Monongahela Railway, as well as items from towboats which have operated in the region. The largest artifact, a retired caboose which has been overlooking Route 40 near Nemacolin Castle, is being moved by Brownsville Borough. “They’re going to be bringing the caboose over and putting it on the adjacent property. They’re trying to get it done by (Train Day) but it’s going to be
close,” Bradmon said. Smaller items can be found inside: a map cabinet with maps and photos of the entire Monongahela Railway system, a cart used to unload train cars and a brass three-whistle chime Lunkenheimer steam whistle are just a few of the items. The whistle came from a tow boat that operated on the Monongahela River. “That was on the E.D. Kenna boat that was repaired down at Hillman Barge. It was made in the late 1800s,” Bradmon said. “Everything that’s in here walked through the door. We don’t have money to acquire all of this.” Among the donations is a 36-inch wooden locomotive and coal tender on a 56-inch long trestle built and donated by Bill Strickler of Arnold City. The collection also includes a hand-built steam locomotive built for a garden railroad. “Mr. Arthur Brown from Uniontown was working in the state of California and he moved back here. Mr. Brown had a collection of railroad books that Harold Richardson catalogued and sold for him and he got that (locomotive) for doing that,” Bradmon said. “There’s a story behind everything that’s in here.” The late Harold Richardson was one of the founding members of the museum, as was the late David Gratz, a railroad engineer who retired as the
Superintendent of the Monongahela Railway. Gratz documented the MR’s history, writing a book on the subject. Gratz donated his extensive collection of MR artifacts to the museum. “This is history that is soon going to be forgotten,” Bradmon said. The museum is dedicated to keeping that history alive. Bradmon said volun-
teers are welcome and the Pittsburgh Garden Railroad Club also takes new members, no train needed. “Everybody does something different,” Weimer said. “My husband does the basic track layout. We look at the areas and the size and try to put things like the lumber company and the saw mill together. We have a lady who likes to do the islands with the trees.” Most of the buildings are also individually crafted, with some wired for electric lights, and all of the scenery, including mountains and other geographic features are also built by hand. The Monongahela Rail, River & Transportation Museum is located at 412 Church St., Brownsville, PA 15417 Photos - (top) This hand-made steam locomotive replica was donated to the Monongahela River, Rail and Transportation Museum by Arthur Brown of Uniontown. (bottom) Multiple trains and trolley cars will be operating for Train Day, May 11, at the Monongahela River Rail and Transportation Museum.
EDITOR’S CHOICE “PIC”OF THE ISSUE
A brand new national touring production of THE SOUND OF MUSIC is coming to Greensburg. The beloved musical story of Maria and the von Trapp family will once again thrill audiences with its Tony, Grammy and Academy Award- winning Best Score, including “My Favorite Things,” “Edelweiss” and the title song. 2015 marked the 50th anniversary of the film version, which continues to be the most successful movie musical in history. Details on page 26.
PENNSYLVANIA BRIDGES - pabridges.com
Pennsylvania Bridges - "Stories We Tell" - May 2019